Winter Survival Food
It’s January and the temperatures have dipped considerably and all the green edibles, roots and nuts that you have learned about are gone or too much work to harvest. No problem! Odds are that you are not far from an outstanding food source that early settlers relied on when food became too scarce. That food source is the mighty pine tree! Maybe you’ve heard that the pine needles are edible (which is somewhat true….more on that later) but the source of food I’m talking about is the cambium layer. In between the outer bark and the inner bark is this wonderfully nutritious area that is white and can be peeled away from the hard, yellow inner bark in strips and eaten immediately, cooked over a fire (a little oil and salt makes it actually a descent snack), laid out to dry to eat later or pounded into a flour. Now that you are super excited to try it out and go eat a tree, let’s talk about identifying the pine tree first. In Wisconsin where I am, I have only tried the White Pine and the Red Pine. The White Pine is by far more palatable. Both Pines have needles in bundles prior to being attached to the tree limb. The White Pine has 5 needles per bundle (the same number of letters in the word white!) and the Red Pine has two much longer needles in a bundle and the bark is easily identified as “reddish”.
A word on being a good environmental stewardship…..only a small section of the tree needs to be harvested. Do not girdle the tree to harvest your bark. In other words, don’t cut a section that goes all the way around the tree. A square or rectangle area perhaps 10 inches by 6 inches is all you would really need.
Now back to that pine needle edibility. You can (and should) eat the pine bark but the same is not true of the needles. We are just not meant to eat the needles themselves but rather pull the nutritious part of the needle from it through a tea or saliva. The vitamin C that is packed into the needles is water soluble. That means if you put it in water, the vitamin will be transferred to the water. If you heat up the water, the transfer happens more rapidly. The same is true with saliva. If you chew on the needles, you will extract the vitamin C. But spit out the needle afterwards! That part is just too fibrous for our bodies to assimilate.